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5 Places to Visit During the Breaks at ICO

5 Places to Visit During the Breaks at ICO

Posted by on Nov 27, 2015 in Blogs

Chicago has a lot to offer. As a student at ICO, it can be quite difficult to get out and enjoy the city. Our schedules are jam packed throughout the week with many of the commitments spilling over into the weekends. Where does that leave time to relax and recuperate?

It is especially hard to get out when you are new to the area and have no idea where to even go. Well, an ideal time for ICO students to explore the city are the breaks. Here is a short list of places worth checking out for a little escape from the demands of optometry school.

1.Goose Island Brewery
For those of you who aren’t familiar with Goose Island, they are most famous for their 312 Urban Wheat Ale. Being from a state that prides itself on craft beer (Michigan,) I had to check it out. I also lived in Kalamazoo, MI over the summer visiting places like Bell’s and Arcadia getting to know craft beer better. When it dawned on me that Chicago has a few of its own big name breweries, I was excited and ready to visit them out over our quarter break. I went with a group of students and another Midwestern classmate who shared my appreciation for craft beer. We were not disappointed. The beer was on point and my fish and chips were phenomenal. For any craft beer fanatic, Goose Island Brewery should be on the top of your list to visit. It is easily accessible via the Red Line to North/Clybourn and then a 5 minute walk from the train stop to the brewery.

2. Navy Pier
Surprisingly, I had actually never been to Navy Pier until our Fall quarter break. I had seen it lit up at night plenty of times, and did come close after an architecture river tour the week of Orientation, but I had never really experienced it. It is a cool place full of shops, restaurants, and plenty of things for tourists to do. I enjoyed the Crystal Gardens most. It is a green house kind of room full of trees and fountains. During the winter months, this would be a great getaway. Simply because Navy Pier is one of the most iconic sites in Chicago, it is worth checking out. It is easily accessible via CTA bus 29 which you can get on at State and 32nd. The bus will take you all the way to the pier.

3. Portillos
If you ask any Chicago native, they will tell you that Portillo’s is the place to go for a hot dog. This was another famous attraction I had not experienced until the Fall break. In Michigan, the Detroit-style coney dogs are much different than the Chicago-style hot dogs. I can’t say that I have a favorite style between the two, but Portillo’s did not disappoint. When I walked into Portillo’s with a group of classmates, I was not surprised with how busy it was, but I was concerned with how long the wait would be. However, the workers were very efficient with handling orders and we got our food without much of a delay. They also have a good beer selection available. There are several Portillo’s throughout the city, but the one we went to was easily accessible via the Red Line to Grand and then about a 5 minute walk.

4. Eataly
As convenient as the cafeteria is, sometimes it can get old. If you’re ever craving some Italian food, there are many options, but I recommend going to Eataly at some point. My classmates actually found it with the help of Yelp. Eataly is a big market with several restaurants, coffee shops, gelato stores, and souvenir shops which are all Italian-themed. They have a wide variety of foods that can be bought to prepare a meal, as well as plenty of restaurants if you are interested in dining in. The set up is very unique. I used to work at an Italian restaurant during the summers between undergrad and pasta is my weakness so personally, I couldn’t say no when I was invited to dinner at Eataly. To my fellow Italian food appreciators, this is a great place to go. The food is delicious (although a bit pricey) and the staff strives to create an authentic Italian experience. It is easily accessible via the Red Line to Grand.

5. Brando’s Speakeasy
There are countless spots for entertainment around the city, but for those of you interested in karaoke, Brando’s Speakeasy is a great place to go. They actually pride themselves as being “Chicago’s #1 Karaoke Lounge.” After experiencing it, they really had a good setup. They had two separate lounges: one near the microphone for those who wanted to hear the songs and see those singing on stage, another in a separate room.

You signed up electronically for a song with your name. Each song was only about 4 minutes long, so no one was performing longer than the crowd wanted to hear them. They called your name three times and if you didn’t come up to the stage by the third calling, they moved on to the next name. It was very efficient. The group of us who went had a great  time and I’m not even a big fan of karaoke bars. Also, after listening to some of my classmates sing, I have to say, ICO has some talent! The lounge was easily accessible via the Green Line to Adams/Wabash and then a 5 minute walk from the station.


During the quarters, it is easy to get caught up in the demands of our schedule. There isn’t much time to get out into the city. It’s easy to forget how much fun it can be. For those who do not go home during quarter or holiday breaks, these are great opportunities to explore the city. This short list can hopefully give you some direction toward places worth exploring when you do have the time. Try one over Thanksgiving!

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NBEO Part 3, the Mother of all Practicals

NBEO Part 3, the Mother of all Practicals

Posted by on Nov 25, 2015 in Blogs

Two done, one to go!

Several weeks ago, I traveled with a handful of my classmates to North Carolina to take Part 3 of our board exams. Unlike Part 1, which we took in March, and Part 2, which we will take in a a couple of days in December (yikes!), Part 3 can be taken on a multitude of dates throughout the academic year. Finishing up Part 3 was exciting- just one more exam and then we’re all done with exams and even closer to that glorious end-point.

Part 3 is akin to practical exams at ICO. Objectives for skills are provided and tasks are grouped together into different stations. I spent the bulk of the weeks leading up to Part 3 reviewing highlighted notes and practicing with classmates. When the fateful day arrived, we were all butterflies and jitters. In Charlotte, we stayed at the Hyatt House which was just a five minute walk to the testing site. At the testing center, we were able to play with all of the equipment and tools we would be using during the exam, which was most helpful.

Hours later, when I reached the end of my final station, I felt relief. A weight was taken off my chest. Finally, the mother of all practicals was over.


With my ICO colleagues all smiles post exam

Traveling to Charlotte to take this practical was nerve-racking, but traveling with friends was enjoyable. Before and after the exam, we got to explore the little downtown and somewhat enjoy our stay in Uptown Charlotte.


Deliciousness. Left: Lunch at Mimosa Grill. Right: Gelato from Bar Cocoa

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Streetcar making Charlotte look like San Francisco


Bechtler Museum of Modern Art

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Netflix and Chill? Suggestions for your Next Break

Posted by on Nov 24, 2015 in Blogs

Everyone needs a break every once in a while- especially if you are in demanding career or program. Some spend this time enjoying the ability to simply do nothing while others travel and plan elaborate vacations. During my most recent break, I decided to head back home to Boston with a list of very specific to-dos to squeeze into my week. Here are a few to-dos that I would recommend for your next holiday, especially Thanksgiving!

1. Read for fun!

I absolutely love to read, but it is hard to read for pleasure during the quarter. Although I am able to get a little bit of leisure reading in here and there, I often find myself feeling like I should be rereading my notes for the next exam instead.  My plan is to get through at least one book during my breaks from my list of must-reads. Current novel: A Clash of Kings (Game of Thrones/A Song of Ice and Fire book 2).


2.Visit friends, family, and maybe even your alma mater

Another one of my plans is to travel and visit friends and family that I have in the area. It is hard to stay in touch with a busy schedule. During my most recent break, I wanted to spend some much needed quality time with my friends and family, a.k.a. my biggest supporters. I also planned to visit my alma mater- UMass Amherst. I decided not to take a gap year between optometry school and undergraduate, so it was fun to go back and see what has changed in the short time I have been gone. My younger sister also attends UMass, so it was a great way to see her too!


3. Netflix binge, of course 

In between reading and visiting with friends, I planned to catch up on some of my favorite shows. Unlike some people, I try my best to avoid Netflix during the quarter because I find that I get sucked in. The planned 1 episode often turns into 4 and, before I know it, I just spend a chunk of my day watching Gossip Girl or Scandal.  Although it is important to take study breaks, it’s hard to only watch one episode while the rest can be accessed with the click of a button. That is why I plan to get my fill while I am at home and don’t need to study.


Now my plans may be very different from some of my classmates, but overall, the theme here is to relax. Taking a break allows you to take some time for yourself. Don’t worry, there is plenty of time to be busy too!

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Chicago’s First Snowfall (of the season…)

Posted by on Nov 23, 2015 in Blogs

Photo courtesy: My dear Californian friend, Alicia Lee, ’19.

Thanksgiving break has rolled around here at ICO. To begin the break with a bang, the first snowfall of the season came tumbling around. The snowfall began around 6PM Friday evening and I had a flight scheduled for 7PM. I am honestly very lucky that my flight was able to escape the snowfall terrors before it got worse. Having a cancelled or rescheduled flight is the least of my concerns now. After I arrived home in Texas, I opened up my social media platforms to find all my friends pictured with the snow. They were definitely having the time of their lives with the first snowfall of the season.

If you choose to attend ICO, then you must understand the weather situations that come along with it. Before I made my way up to Chicago, I was experiencing 100+ degrees Fahrenheit weather (37.7 degrees Celsius for you Canadians out there) in Texas. I was ready to leave that sweaty, messy weather behind! When we first moved here in August, we experienced the last few weeks of summer and let me tell you, it was the best weather I have ever experienced. I was having the time of my life with the 80-70 degrees weather here. It was perfect! Thank goodness for us all, that weather lasted for another month.

Before moving here, I questioned every upperclassmen I spoke to if I needed a good winter coat or if I needed snow boots to function. From hearing everyone’s advice, I concluded that if I was going to be living in the RC, I had no need for snow boots; I would be walking back and forth across the street to the school and the RC. If you choose to NOT live in the RC, you might want to consider some good, functional boots when it snows because you might be walking quite the journey to the school. A winter coat is definitely necessary though. I advise those from the West coast or the South like me to invest! Luckily in Chicago, there is a vast amount of stores to buy a winter coat from. I have seen coats from Columbia, North Face, Uniqlo, Nordstorm Rack, and more.

Choosing ICO means you’re also choosing the winter weather that comes with it. It’s a 2-in-1 deal that you probably didn’t ask for, but nonetheless, it has been a great experience dealing with cooler temperatures. To be honest, I’m starting to like the Chicago weather more than the weather back in Texas. …but I might regret saying this if it starts snowing more frequently!

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Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives: Nana

Posted by on Nov 18, 2015 in Blogs


How do you celebrate being free of finals? I, of course, eat. My partner in eating saw a place on a Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives episode that served Duck Confit Eggs Benedict. Sadly, after talking about this restaurant (Nana) since August, we found the menu. They have Duck Confit and Eggs Benedict, but unfortunately, they remain separated! However, we decided to try it.

There is good reason why Nana was featured on the show. Imagine a mix between an organic Mexican restaurant and a fancy coffee shop, and that’s the atmosphere you will find. When its Fall, I find it mandatory to have hot cider, and I have no complaints. For an appetizer, I recommend the avocado fries, but only if you like crispy avocados lightly battered, fried and dipped in some kind of chipotle lime sauce. It was so good that I couldn’t get a photo before the sauce was sampled.


For the entrée, I ordered the daily special of steak tacos. My partner got the Nanadict, which is eggs benedict with chorizo (a spicy sausage), popusas (instead of an English muffin), and a green sauce on top.

Nana is also very easy to get to from ICO. All you do is go west on 33rd, go straight until you can’t anymore, and its on your right. No traffic, and if you go on a Monday at 2:00, there is no wait (knock on wood).

I cannot wait to go back and try their other menu items. While their desserts sound good, we were too full to try anything. Maybe next time we won’t eat as much!

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